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Guest Column: Lee Zeldin’s silence is not leadership

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) was among the first political figures to embrace the candidacy of Donald Trump, which he did with the eagerness of a tick embedding itself in a deer’s ear. Mr. Zeldin is proving to be a faithful sycophant to the philanderer-in-chief through his failure to speak out against presidential actions and behavior that threaten the fundamentals of a democratic and constitutional society.

He remains silent as his president vilifies a free press, demonizes our justice system, ignores truth in public statements, displays racial bias, habitually disrespects women and allows children to be detained in cages. Silence is not leadership — it is a hallmark of cowardice.

Mr. Zeldin has some influential admirers from outside his Congressional district, including the controversial Steve Bannon, of “alt-right” and white supremacy fame, who graciously hosted a $1,000-a-plate dinner for Mr. Zeldin in Manhattan last December. Our representative is apparently comfortable associating with proponents of racial and religious bias. Surely Mr. Zeldin, himself Jewish, is aware that many ultra-right individuals and groups are anti-Semitic.

A member of the House Financial Services Committee, Mr. Zeldin is actively working to undermine regulations on financial institutions, such as the Dodd-Frank Act, passed by Congress to minimize risky financial practices and avoid another recession. The announced purpose of this deregulation, called the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155) — referred to derisively by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) as the “Bank Lobbyist Act” — is to relieve small local and regional banks of over-regulation. What Mr. Zeldin seems not to understand is that in this bill, “small” is defined as institutions having up to a quarter of a billion dollars in assets. Thus, under this bill, only 12 of the country’s 62 largest banks would require special oversight to ensure they’re not at risk of failing. We have forgotten all about the cowboy years of under-regulated banking, which led to the 2008 recession.

Mr. Zeldin’s diligence in eviscerating banking regulations does have its rewards — he is receiving his largest donations from a $3.2-billion campaign war chest benefiting several candidates and funded by PACs representing finance, real estate and insurance institutions. Mr. Zeldin’s share of this lobbying fund is over $800,000, more than a third of his campaign contributions. This PAC money, coming from outside our Congressional district, is a strong inducement for Mr. Zeldin to act in ways that may not benefit the constituents he is supposed to be serving.

Like his president, Mr. Zeldin is accused of being a climate change denier and offering weak support for pro-environment issues. The League of Conservation Voters looked at his voting record on 30 pro-environment bills introduced in Congress in 2017. He voted against 26 of these, supported three of them, and missed a vote on one. For this record, the League of Conservation Voters awarded Mr. Zeldin a score of 9 percent on his support of pro-environmental issues in 2017 and a lifetime score of 10 percent. These scores place Mr. Zeldin near the bottom of all Congress members on pro-environmental issues.

Only the dimmest bulb on the tree could fail to perceive that our government is becoming dysfunctional and failing to work for us. The president’s promised efforts to “drain the swamp” have exposed an odious bog from which mud-covered creatures are emerging in handcuffs for high crimes and misdemeanors. We need to replace the people who pretend to represent us but do not really advance our interests. Mr. Zeldin’s Democratic challenger, Perry Gershon, has fresh ideas and will help restore sanity to our government and trust in our elected officials.

The authors reside in Southold.